Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Brain Trust Graduates!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickens
The Brain Trust and I are officially graduates of our fellowship program after three long years.  We started seven members deep that summer of 2010 and the last of us limped jubilantly across the finish line last week.

I have spent nearly a quarter of my life in surgical training.  Though one could argue that I have spent the majority of my life moving towards this day, it is an odd anticlimax. To an individual finishing 8 years of surgical training, it feels like the entire world should stop, if only for a moment, to recognize. 

The honest truth of it is; however, July 1 was a day like any other.  And the cycle of medical training life turned as always.

The three Brain Trust members that remained from our class had a final farewell lunch before we all headed home for the final push on papers and packing.  The talk was the usual stuff: war stories about recent cases, what’s the next big thing in surgical research, cackling at the fate of the “fresh meat” new fellows. 

While we were in the thick fellowship, all we wanted was for the days to pass quickly to get to that future as an attending where the grass is clearly greener. Sitting with my co-fellows at lunch, I realized that being an attending is going to be great, but I will always have nostalgia for these very special 3 years in the safe nest of surgical fellowship. 

The best part of fellowship is the fellows.  We have been in the trenches together.  We learned and grew professionally and personally with very little risk to our careers or ourselves.  We spent hours in the fellows office discussing hard cases and doing impressions of our attendings.  We singlehandedly kept our local Starbucks in business.  In the same vein, we singlehandedly kept our local bar in business.  We wrote papers together.  We covered each other when needed—both in the clinic/OR and emotionally.  When I look back on it, it’s hard to remember the nights of incessant pages and attending tantrums.  It’s easy to remember the OR cases, happy hours, coffee breaks, lunches, and hours in the fellows office.

Though we discussed the usual things at our last lunch, talk turned to new things as well.  We each described the new homes we are renting, plans for cross-country moves, weddings, and new lives.  A couple of the Brain Trust members have recently gotten engaged.  Even I, the perpetual SFS, have found myself in love with a wonderful man that I randomly and serendipitously met at a college alumni mixer in December.

As I recounted in a previous post, Thor said that during fellowship, “Your life is on hiatus.”  For the Brain Trust, the hiatus is over.  In many places, graduation is called “commencement.”  We’re commencing the start of our lives.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Celebrate Equal Pay Day!

Women have consistently made less money than men for the same (if not better quality) work.  Today, ironically on Tax Day, we celebrate Equal Pay Day.  Today, April 17th, 2012, marks the day when women make the same amount than men 2011.  Yes, that's right.  Women are still making 77 cents to every dollar than men are making, despite the fact that women are quickly becoming the better educated and qualified gender.

What can we do to end the disparity?  First, let's educate ourselves.  Download the fact sheet from the American Association of University Women website.  Also, check out the AAUW's website dedicated to the cause.  Second, support the Paycheck Fairness Act by signing this online petition and writing to your representative.

We ladies get educated, do consistently excellent work, support the economy, and provide care for our families.  Let's get compensated fairly for our hard work.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pledging the Fraternity

There is an incredible dialogue on the grandstand of American politics and culture currently on how the roles of women are changing in society and actually changing society in general.  What seemed to have started as a murmur a few years ago, is now becoming a fact of the present.  Women are increasingly "pledging the fraternity" and winning in their own ways. 

I was horrified and thrilled about the coverage of IBM CEO Ginni Rometty's appearance at the Augusta Master's tournament.  Here's a nice op-ed from The Huffington Post that captures her graceful inspiration.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dubious, but Posting Anyways

Here's a column to think about from The New York Times this weekend.  I'm not sure I agree with the author's findings that highly educated women are more likely to get married (did they poll any female surgeons??), but it's interesting reading. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I was talking to my dear friend C the other day on the phone and she asked me about my recent trip to Hawaii.  Except that it really wasn't that recent.  It was in December.  It has been over two months since I have seen or talked to her.

This month, I am on call for three out of the four weekends.  This has been pretty standard for most of my clinical year thus far.  Most of the time, the fact that I basically have no life outside of medicine doesn't really bother me.  Most of the time, I am too busy and too sleep-deprived to really even realize how each day melts into the next while real/normal life is going on around me.  I am always surrounded by my co-fellows (wonderful people without whom I'm not sure I would possess even the modicum of sanity that I have) and loads of people from patients to support staff.

And yet, if I stop for just a second (and manage to not fall asleep), I realize that there is something missing.

My co-fellow Thor described it most aptly: our lives are on hiatus.

I try not to say this often, but it's really something that non-medical people can't understand.  Just the level to which your freedom is restricted in the medical profession.  The times when I feel it the most are when I'm walking home from the hospital.  On a Friday or Saturday night at midnight, as I walk home from the hospital, looking crappy in my scrubs, exhausted and physically sore in every muscle from operating, I see all of the "normal people" sitting in bars with their friends, talking, laughing, enjoying a few beers.  Or on a Sunday afternoon, as I hustle back to the hospital to see yet another consult, I see "normal people" sitting outside enjoying brunch with their family or friends.  Even when I was a medical student, I spent hours at a Borders bookstore cafe with my best friend on a Saturday afternoon with a pile of medical reading.  Occasionally, we would look up, bleary-eyed, jealous of the people around us reading The Atlantic and Glamour.

I can't have a beer anymore--I'm always tied to my pager and worry that a patient may have an MI.  I can't make plans for Sunday brunch--I can't leave a certain radius of the hospital and I just don't know if I'll be able to get out of the hospital on time.  And on the precious weekends I do have off?  I take care of all of the errands I couldn't take care of--buying groceries, paying bills, watering plants, cleaning, cooking, laundry, calling my family.  And often those things go by the wayside because I end up not being able to move from my bed.  Trying to pay off my sleep debt.  Catching up on "medical jetlag."

I'm proud of what I do and love what I do.  I realize that I get to do something that few people get to do and that specialized knowledge comes with a price.  I also realize that, as a consequence, I will never be a perfectly "normal person" with a 9 to 5 job, but that there is going to be a time when I will be closer to that than I am now.  That in fact, this is a hiatus and one day I will be back to normal-ish life.  And when that day comes, I will order a beer at a pub on a Sunday afternoon, watch football with my friends, laugh and joke, and be grateful for every minute of it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Black Cloud"

We all know and love and fear the term "Black Cloud."  I'm never quite sure how to define this for my non-medical friends and family:

Black Cloud (adjective): 1. a term used to describe a medical trainee whose pager beeps incessantly, 2. a term used to describe a medical trainee who never gets sleep on call, 3. a term used to describe a medical trainee who admits multiple ("train wreck") patients per night, 4. a term used to describe a medical trainee whose pager number is on speed-dial in the emergency room

Pretty much every one of these definitions could be used to describe me over the past two months.  Hell, over the past seven years.  As a resident, there were some attendings who dreaded being on call with me, knowing that there would be multiple consults to round on and trauma to operate on all night. 

But we Black Clouds have to wear our pagers and dark circles with pride.  Pride (coupled with multiple cups of coffee) is the only way we can hold our heads up...from nodding off.  We chalk up our experiences to "learning opportunities."  There has been no shortage of learning for me recently.

As a result of my Black Cloud status, it's been a bit of a dry spell here at SATS.  Well, I take that back.  I am having a torrid love affair--with Hospital.  We spend all of our time together.  We call each other constantly.  We can't get enough of each other.  We learn more about each other every day and our bond just grows stronger. 

But in all seriousness, as a result of my love affair with Hospital, there hasn't been much room for anyone else in my life.  It's amazing how little time an 90+ hour workweek leaves for anything else.  Just trying to maintain relationships with my family can be a challenge.  I'm embarrassed to say that I finished my Christmas shopping on December 27th. 

I know that the love affair with Hospital and the Black Cloud status have an expiration date.  I know that I will eventually be able to re-enter normal life.  I know that the more Black Cloud experiences I have, the better physician and surgeon I will be.  But in the meantime, in these few days I have off for the holidays, I will slumber.

Beep, beep, beep!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

All the Single Ladies

Grad Stud #2 recently sent me an email and re-entered my life.  Not to worry ladies, Grad Stud #1 is completely out of the picture.

Grad Stud #2 and I have an amazing epistolary relationship.  We fire emails back and forth regarding our mutual disdain for the Republican debates, the lack of universal health coverage in our country, NPR...I could go on and on about the email courtship of two left-leaning individuals.

So what's the problem, right?  When I meet him in real life, there's just...nothing.  I'm not sure I feel attracted to him physically and the conversation is overly animated witty repartee on my side to make up for the lack of emotion and utter seriousness on his side.  I've tried to pass it off to nerves on his end...but you'd think that after three dates that maybe things would loosen up a bit.

Tonight I'm going to tell him that we should just be friends.

Aside from Grad Stud #2, there have been a couple other dates since the last post way back in August, but these were also lackluster.  I went out with one really weird dude who still sends me short little email snippets (i.e. "Hope things are well with you!").  I guess it's amusing.  The other guy...we just didn't mesh.

Honestly, though I occasionally have moments where I want to meet someone and do the whole "settling down" thing, I am more frequently terrified by that idea. 

I see the majority of my high school, college, and med school classmates on Facebook with their S.O.'s and pictures of children growing by leaps and bounds.  I feel like I'm supposed to want all of that. 

But instead, I really really love my job.  If I have learned anything in the last couple months, it's that I missed clinical medicine last year while I was on research.  I love being able to spend time on my job and not be pulled in a million directions.  I love having an active and drama-free social life.  I love being available to help out my family when they need it.  And most of all...I love having my freedom.  Some of my settled friends might call these feelings "delayed adulthood" brought on by extra years of training.  Another word I have heard is "selfishness."  Or maybe this is just the way I am built.

Though I may be single, I am not alone in my sentiments.  There are more and more single women out there who are single by choice or by the reality of a lack of suitable partners.  This article from The Atlantic ("All the Single Ladies") poignantly and eloquently states the case.  

One of my mentors told me that in order to be a good surgeon and researcher, I might have to find a path all my own and that my professional future may look different than I expect.  Perhaps the same is true for the personal futures of us single ladies.  Maybe the future of relationships isn't the nuclear family with 2.5 children.  Maybe we will create new realities, relationships, and families that are unique to each individual.